Rather incredibly, the official TakaraTomy Masterpiece line has now been alive for an almighty 17 years, making it the longest continuously-running toyline in Transformers history! Yet the definition of what makes a Masterpiece (big ‘M’) has changed a lot during that time too, especially as TT’s own line has evolved its purpose quite a bit, not to mention the huge increase in the number of unofficial “third party” options on the scene these days too.
In fact assembling a Masterpiece collection can be a bit of a minefield, especially if you’re willing to look beyond the confines of the official line itself. Yet even for collectors who prefer to colour within the lines (to coin a phrase) there are complications. Putting the first releases of the line to one side, the notion of the line being about a bunch of high-end toys all in the same unifying scale and each adhering to a distinct aesthetic really started with MP-9 Rodimus Prime, given that the subsequent release of MP-10 Convoy (or Optimus Prime if you will) was then made to fit perfectly alongside him.
The initial promotional pictures of MP-10 also made it clear that this was a key aspect of that toy’s design, giving rise to the “handshake” post that has been all-the-more familiar in the years since. Yet MP-10 was also a watershed in its own right, being the first of many toys in the line to be designed by Shogo Hasui, and launched with the apparent promise of following up with a range of toys to match the original cartoon’s model sheets and scale charts.
At the time, fans could barely contain their excitement. The very idea of all of their favourite characters receiving the same treatment as Optimus did with MP-10 was more than anyone could have asked for, and the releases that followed made good on that initial promise for quite a few years to come. Somewhere along the line though, things became more complicated.
Many fans will tell you that they’re not as on board with the recent swing towards the more slavishly cartoony aesthetic the line has adopted, which seems to have started after a change in designers from MP-25 Tracks (although it’s become more evident with later toys, such as MP-33 Inferno and MP-39 Sunstreaker). That’s all culminated in the line going full circle and actually “rebooting” characters that many had been previously considered as “done” during the Hasui era, including repainted “Plus” versions of old designs but even going so far as to give Optimus Prime an entirely new mould to better fit where the line is now heading.
So in many ways the official line has become confusing enough unto itself, but once you factor in the huge plethora of third party figures out there you’re left with an endless number of options available to you in trying to assemble the “perfect” G1 line-up in Masterpiece form (if indeed such a thing can exist!). If anything there now are so many choices available to cater for a huge array of personal preferences that the definition, “Masterpiece” has taken on new meaning in the eyes of a lot of collectors. It no longer feels synonymous with just the official line, to the point where everyone has their own interpretation on what it means to them.
Then of course there are the Masterpiece-styled toys that don’t fit into a G1 cartoon line-up, of which there are many in the official line alone but even more when you look to the third party scene. Beast Wars Masterpiece toys have become some of the best official figures going right now, but we’re already seeing the Movie Masterpiece roster being bolstered quite a bit too, and more beyond.
So where does it end, and how does one assemble the “perfect” Masterpiece collection?
Well, I can’t really answer that for you. All I can do is take you on my own personal journey and attempt to document some of the decisions I have made when trying to make sense of the toys I’ve chosen for a place on myx shelf. That means looking at individual characters and weighing up all the many different toys that are available for them in the market before selecting the one I decided to go for in each case.
First up, let’s discuss the categories that I’m interested in for my own collection:
- G1 cartoon (Sunbow): this one maybe speaks for itself, but a line-up of Masterpiece toys designed to best represent the named on-screen characters from the original Sunbow animation, including The Rebirth
- G1 toy: as a separate consideration, toys that are designed to represent the original G1 line-up but with an aesthetic that better matches their original plastic counterparts (and also includes toys that were never seen in the animation)
- Takara cartoon: as an addition to the G1 cartoon line-up, these are toys that are meant to represent the cartoon models from the various Takara animated shows, including the likes of Masterforce, Victory etc.
- Generation 2: toys that are best designed to represent the unique colour schemes of the Generation 2 line, in updated form
- Pre-Transformers: toys that are best designed to represent the Diaclone & Micro Changes lines, amongst others
- Beast Wars: toys designed to represent the original Beast Wars line-up, although mostly geared towards the cartoon (but also including offshoots like Beast Wars II etc)
- Movie-verse: toys designed that to best represent the characters from the big-screen live-action films in the Transformers franchise, including Bumblebee
Phew. Just that then, eh?
Clearly that’s a lot to go through, so we’re going to keep it as simple as possible and focus on honing a decent-looking G1 cartoon line-up to begin with! With that in mind I’ve put together a list of every named character who appeared in the Sunbow animation during the 4 seasons of its run (including The Rebirth). We’re going to start with the Autobots (with the Decepticons soon to follow, don’t worry), so here’s what we’re looking to achieve…
That’s still a lot of characters, but at least we’re starting to hone it down a little! Obviously some of them are arguably “more important” than others, but if there is an MP-styled toy of it then we’ll attempt to cover it off at some point, and we’ll be filling in the chart above as we go!
In each case we’ll take a look at the various official & 3P options available for that character in Masterpiece-style, before I ultimately let you know which I decided was right for my shelf. Obviously it’s a very personal decision, and by no means do I believe for a second that what I decide will be right for everyone, but hopefully it’ll help to give you some food for thought all the same! I’ll be looking at criteria such as play value, transformation, aesthetics, design, paint applications and ultimately how good a job the toy in question does at representing the character we we know them on-screen.
When I’ve confirmed which toy is taking the spot in my collection, I’ll also assign it a current status:
- PLACEHOLDER status will be given when the toy in question is the best on offer right now, but really as soon as a better option comes along then I’ll be “trading up”
- SECURE status will be given when the toy feels like a solid lock for the character right now, and barring a better toy coming along it has a strong footing in my collection
- DEFINITIVE status will be awarded for those rare examples where clearly it’s the best toy of that character that we’re likely to get and I can’t honestly imagine anyone else improving on it (though never say never!)
So, all that said, today we’re going to be taking a look at the first character on our roster and it’s none other than… JAZZ!
One of the most well-known and popular Autobots, I think just about every G1 MP collector would love to add a nice representation of this character to their collection! But with no official Masterpiece toy in sight at the present time, let’s go ahead and look at what the third party scene has to offer, shall we?
First teased in 2015, Transform & Rollout’s debut release caused a lot of comment online when it was first announced under the name of Hova, mostly due to being the first MP-style Jazz toy revealed. Sadly it also had a fairly lengthy gestation before finally making it to market, meaning that it was pipped to the post by some of its competitors, but has generally been well-regarded since.
Agent Meister takes the unusual step of featuring a lot of real-world racing livery as well as a very detailed car mode. In terms of accessories there’s a gun, an alternate face, a grappling hook, 2 external speakers and then 2 flip-out speakers on his robot mode.
Next up is Toyworld’s attempt at the character, which again features a fair amount of racing livery, although this time with at least some attempt to distance it from any potential copyright issues by purposefully misspelling some of the sponsors on show (but not all of them, weirdly).
This lad comes with mixed feedback online, with a lot of people citing the transformation as not being much fun. This version features a number of similar accessories to the Transform & Rollout effort, including an alternate head, handheld blaster, shoulder launcher, grappling hook and a pair of external speakers.
In an interesting move, this toy is identical to Toyworld Coolsville! It all happened after the designers who previously worked with Toyworld split off and released their work under Zeta instead, meaning that some designs made it to market through two separate companies. Weird!
Again, this one has been met with some mixed feedback, but there are plenty of people who also like the look of the attractive vehicle mode, and the level of heft on offer.
Maketoys are a bit of a go-to outfit for a lot of third party collectors, and despite recent rumours to the contrary it seems the company is making a bit of a comeback of late. Downbeat was first revealed in 2016 but was the first attempt at an MP-style Jazz to make it to market.
The vehicle mode swings more into an animation-styled look that some of its competitors, dispensing with the racing livery for the most part. Downbeat comes with a gun, shoulder launcher, grappling hook, some additional speakers and a couple of extra faces.
Oh, and Maketoys are currently in the process of reissuing this guy, with a so-called Premium Version on the way that boasts “improved paint applications and metallic paint, all new decals and several other yet to be revealed gimmicks“, so that’s quite exciting!
Lastly we have the upcoming effort from FansToys, which of course was met with the usual sense of hype and excitement that their reveals tend to garner!
We don’t know much about FT-48 yet, including even what it will be called! The paint job for the toy has yet to be revealed either, but one imagines it will stick fairly closely to the character’s animation mode. Given this has only just been unveiled, I’d imagine it could be a good bit of time before it sees release, but watch this space!
So, which of these options was right for me? Well, check the video below to find out!
So, there you go – for me it was a very clear choice of Maketoys Downbeat, and I couldn’t be happier with him! In fact, he’s so good that I am going to award him with the top ranking available.
Will a better version come along? I guess we’ll have to see if FansToys can best it with their upcoming FT-48, or perhaps TakaraTomy will eventually bring a proper Masterpiece version to market – who knows? But for know I feel very comfortable with having a representation of Jazz on my shelf that, should that never happen, I’d be very happy. That’s the first box on our Autobot roster ticked off, then!
So there you go, that’s our first Masterpiece Masterclass! Which character should we cover next time?